On God and Government: The Interview

As we often hear about the separation of church and state, but we don’t always hear about religion’s impact in government through lobbying and campaign contributions. Yet, with the 2012 presidential campaign season approaching, we hear about the importance the evangelicals have in early states as Iowa and South Carolina.

Let’s not kid ourselves, religion has always played a role in our government. James Madison had a reason for including freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and the same be said for Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. The US Supreme Court first used “building a wall of separation between church and State” in Reynolds v United States (1878).

William Jennings Bryan’s rooted his presidential campaigns in his faith. Rev. Billy Graham influencing the White House goes back to President Eisenhower. Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority served as a force for the conservative right in the 1980s. Today, Rev James Dobson’s Focus on the Family is strong. By the way, the PBS series God in America is a wonderful learning opportunity. (Video, transcripts, and other resources are here.)

On Easter Sunday, ABC’s This Week (with Christiane Amanpour) used the entire hour to feature God and Government. Below are some points that I found interesting.

The show opened with separate interviews with two prominent pastors: Rev. Franklin Graham and Rev. Tim Keller. Listen to them helps demonstrate differences within Christianity. The interviews are on this link.

Equally information was the roundtable discussion between Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eboo Patel, founder of a the Interfaith Youth Core and a former member of President Obama’s Faith Advisory Council, Reverend Al Sharpton, and ABC’s Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve Roberts, an interfaith couple (Catholic and Jewish). Again, the theological differences are both profound and interesting. Here are a couple of quotes that struck me.

(C Roberts) Well, one would hope that religion stands in the place of trying to make people come together on high ground. But the – the fact is is that – that there’s lots of arguing and yelling and screaming and it takes place among religious people; in some cases inside churches. But I don’t want to go too far on this because keep in mind this – in this country, we’re not fighting with each other over religion. And that’s happening in most parts of the world.

(Sharpton) If – with – with all of us sitting around this table from different faiths, if those that we learned and emulate those faiths that Mohammed and Jesus and Moses set out, they wouldn’t have a problem. It’s those that come in their names that have so polarized American and world society. And I think if we sought to rise to the level, the thinking, the spirituality of those that we claim to follow, we would be able to break those barriers down.

(Patel) Faith can either be a bomb of destruction. It can be a barrier of division. Or it can be a bridge of cooperation. Our job is to make it a bridge of cooperation.

(Patel) We have a remarkable opportunity in this country. This is the first nation that brings people from the four corners of the Earth from every conceivable ethnic, racial, religious, national background to build together a country. We have an opportunity to be a city on a hill where the Mosque, the Synagogue, the Church, the Tsonga, the secular humanist society, works together in a world in which those communities are too often at each other’s throats.

(S Roberts) I think an even more pressing spiritual issue is tolerance. Our whole history has been replete with spasms of intolerance. And eventually we overcome them, and we have to do it again. … But history tells us that that will change. For 250 years that each new group America says we’re now perfect, we’re going to pull up the drawbridge, because the next group – the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Irish, the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, they’re going to degrade our culture. All of the rhetoric, all of the hate, all of the nativism that is being focused on Muslims and to some extent on Latinos today, we’ve heard periodically throughout our entire history.

(Land) (about the birthers and those thinking President Obama is a Muslim) I think they’re irrational, and a little imbalanced. I – I have no doubt whatsoever that Barrack Obama is a very typical 21st century main line Protestant. …  I say the idea that he wasn’t born in Hawaii, and the idea that he’s a Muslim is just flat nuts.

What are your thoughts?

Resources

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 82

On Two Arizona Hurts
Most Americans are rooting and cheering for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and the more I learn about her, how could one not.

Another hurt is that of the shooter’s parents. As they understandably stay secluded within their home, the media remains camped on the outside. They must feel a wide range of emotions as shame, rage, shock, bewilderment, and countless other adjectives. Personally, I would like to see three things for them: all media leave, someone close to the tragedy reach out their hand of forgiveness, and hope that they accept those who reach out – and the sooner the better on all counts.

Note: NBC reported that one of the injured went to the parent’s home for grant forgiveness, but he couldn’t get access.

On Mindless Finger Pointing
Sarah Palin is right in saying, “We are better than the mindless finger pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy.” However, is she is capable of mindless finger pointing?

Oh Rush for saying, “What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country.” Are any conservatives out there going to challenge him?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently sent a letter seeking campaign funds while also mentioning the recent shootings in Arizona and the Republican far right. What were you thinking?

On the Two Speeches
President Obama delivered a magnificent speech Wednesday night in Tucson. Honest, genuine, compassionate, eloquent, realistic, inspirational, graceful, and many more adjectives can describe the speech. Anyone denying so is simply lost wondering adrift in the woods of partisanship.

After the speech, out of curiosity, I tuned to Fox News to hear their comments, which were all positive. Now compare that speech with the video released from Alaska earlier in the day.

Of the Tucson speech, I don’t recall seeing Speaker Boehner (R-OH) or Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) in the crowd. If that was the case, not a good decision because one of them should have been there.

On an Upcoming Speech
On Tuesday, January 25th, President Obama will deliver the 2011 State of the Union address. Hey members of Capitol Hill. Consider standing and clapping only after Mr. President is introduced and at his conclusion. In between, sit and listen with dignity.

As a side note, I suggested this in a comment on CNN yesterday in a comment to a good letter by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO).

On a PBS Series
Sometime ago I recorded God in America, a 6-hour PBS series about the role religious faith has played in shaping life, politics, and culture in America. Both my wife and I found it to be enjoyable and enlightening. Not only can anyone view each segment online, the series’ website also provides transcripts, interviews, a study guide, and other resources about the topic.

On the BCS Championship
Congratulations to Auburn and their fans for winning the the game, but not the true national championship because there isn’t one to win.

BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock recently said the “old system” is more likely to return than a playoff system. Then so be it! Break up the cartel!

On Rushing Waters
Our thoughts and prayers to those affected by the horrifying waters in Brisbane, Australia and most recently in Brazil. Please consider donating to the International Red Cross or your favorite international relief agency.

On an Approaching Day
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and these words from Bill Tammeus’s Faith Matter’s blog stuck me: The progress we’ve made as a nation has been by fits and starts and, in the end, has left much unaccomplished. Each of us, no matter our ethnic origin, no doubt has a list of what has been left undone and needs to be tackled. (Source post)

Have a safe weekend.